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Killing Of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi Stirs Up Rivalries In The Middle East


The death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has strained ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and it's stirred up rivalries in the Middle East between the Saudis, the Iranians and the Turks. Turkey has been strategic in dominating the narrative, and earlier today, NPR's Deb Amos told me that Turkey's president isn't just trying to gain an advantage over the Saudis.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: He also is playing his hand to improve relations with the U.S. It's - they've been terrible over the past year on a variety of issues. But, you know, Istanbul, Ankara is working with Washington on this particular event, and the pressure comes at a time that the Saudis and the Turks are on different sides of this regional cleavage. And it goes to this question about how majority Muslim countries are governed.

They favor Islamist activists - for example, the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis, the UAE, the Egyptians - they hate those people. They put them in jail. And so for Turkey, it is good for them to see the Saudi leadership in some ways shaken, their reputations questioned because it is good for Turkey as a regional leader.

CORNISH: You know, in the U.S., policymakers are so focused on the divide between Saudi Arabia and Iran. How has Iran played into this story, if at all?

AMOS: Oh, they've been very quiet and in the first two weeks said nothing. Only in the past couple of days have we begun to see Iranian officials speak up. The first was the head of the judiciary, a hard-liner who said there's no way this murderer could have taken place without protection from the West.

Then on Wednesday, the Iranian president, Rouhani, also repeated that charge that, you know, it was under U.S. protection that this happened; how in this century could we have such a terrible murder? They see their position strengthened as Saudi Arabia is weakened. They are on different sides in a number of conflicts in Yemen, in Syria, in Lebanon. And they have not been forceful until now, but they are moving into a position of criticizing the Saudi leadership.

CORNISH: And when I think about the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia was the answer to their conflict with Iran in a way, right? I mean, the Saudis backed the president when he pulled out of the Obama-era nuclear agreement with Iran. What does it mean for Washington's Iran policy?

AMOS: That question has reportedly been part of the White House calculation as the whole story unfolds. Here is why. Saudi Arabia is critical to the Trump plan to squeeze Iranian oil imports. If you take Iranian oil imports off the market - and that is exactly what the Trump administration wants to do - you could drive up oil prices, gas prices in the United States if you don't find a way to fill that gap. That's what Saudi will offer. They are the only oil producer that has spare capacity, and they have said that they will make up any deficit in Iranian crude and keep oil prices steady. Now, so far, Saudi's energy minister has said this is exactly what they're going to do. They're going to open those taps. This all begins on November 5.

CORNISH: And November 5 - what's the significance of that date?

AMOS: November 5 is when the U.S. sanctions go into effect. That is when it will become very difficult for the Iranians to sell any of their oil on the global market.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Deb Amos. Thanks so much for explaining it.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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